I have been holding on to this post for over a year now. Figured it was about time that I showed readers the most impressive Encephalartos cycad collection I have seen in a private garden. Of course it had to be in South Africa, the land of Encephalartos. This garden I am about to show is only a few years old and can be found on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Because of the plants involved, and where he lives, I will only show this as an anonymous private collector’s garden. A garden with acres of cycads almost as far as the eye could see.
Last year before my trip to Madagascar I had a few-days layover in Johannesburg. Prior to arriving I asked a few online South African friends what gardens I should tour to see the blue cycads that I love so much. A consensus was that I should visit this highly regarded garden. When I contacted the owner, he was very accommodating and even let me take photos during my visit. Because of the current state of affairs in South Africa, many of these private collectors like to be under the radar, so to speak. So I am grateful I am able to show off this eventual masterpiece.
After arriving through the driveway gate, the front yard gave a hint of what I had in store. It also gave me a better understanding of what South African cycad collectors must do to protect their plants/investments. Tall walls with electric fences were the norm all over Johannesburg.
The front yard is the newer part of the garden. However, it still had two recently planted, ancient cycads as the show pieces. The first is an Encephalartos altensteinii and the second an Encephalartos princeps.
Moving to the first views of the backyard. An amazing panoramic of hundreds of cycads with aloes scattered throughout the garden.
These photos show how dense and well planted out this garden is. While looking through these handful of photographs you will notice many cycads are just showing their caudex. As I mentioned, this is still a very young garden and a lot of cycads have recently been planted and are settling in before they flush a new head of growth. I hope to get back to this garden someday and see what it looks like when all these cycads have had a few flushes under their belt. Most of these photos below were taken from the bottom of the property to give more perspective on the scope of the project.
As you can see from the photos above, it would be impossible to show each individual cycad in this post. So I will just choose a few of my favorites, most of which are rarely seen in private collections. First up is my favorite cycad – Encephalartos hirsutus.
Closely related to the cycad shown above is one even rarer in cultivation – Encephalartos brevifoliolatus. Very few people are lucky enough to own this Holy Grail of cycads.
Encephalartos heenanii is always a collector’s favorite. The garden had quite a few in the collection. I didn’t know prior to my visit that there is a blue-leafed variety, which is shown in the second photo. It had just flushed and will show more blue in the leaflets once the leaf fully hardens.
This cycad is a new one for me too. Many just consider it an expensive form of Encephalartos dyerianus. However, this cycad looks a little different and is most likely a new species called Encephalartos levuboensis. For those familiar with Encephalartos dyerianus, you can see this cycad differs with its leaflets held on a flat plane and at a much greater angle off the rachis.
Encephalartos latifrons. This is a slow-growing cycad, so these are pretty ancient plants.
Encephalartos latifrons is one of my favorite cycads. This fine example below is one of the most impressive I have seen. I loved the leaflets and their stacking.
Odd growing Encephalartos lehmannii.
Pictures just can’t do this Encephalartos horridus justice. It was almost neon blue.
A more classical form of Encephalartos horridus.
A cycad many think is just a hybrid with Encephalartos horridus – Encephalartos arenarius ‘True Blue Form.’
Encephalartos nubimontanus ‘Robustus.’
Encephalartos trispinosus ‘Green Form.’ (Well, best guess).
When you look at the photos you will notice many aloes have been mixed into the cycad garden. I was in South Africa, after all. A hotbed of aloes as well as cycads. Here is Aloe marlothii in the first photo and Aloe dichotoma with an Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii behind it in the second photo.
Also found in the garden is a large field-grown cycad nursery. Cycads grow much faster in the ground than in pots, and because they transplant so easily, this is the best way to cultivate them if you have the room.
So what did you think? Even if you are not a cycad enthusiast, you can’t help but be amazed. While we do have many nice cycad gardens here in Southern California, nothing can compare to the size of the yard and variety of South African cycads found in this private Johannesburg collection. What a great opportunity it was to see it in person.
Tremendous investment of so many in a climate about midway between soucal and the bay area? J-burg Has San Jose summer highs and SF winter lows temps. Those large old cycads are going to take some times to adjust.
Its an extravaganza for sure. That’s near the ultimate. Those blue to ultra blue are on the wish list. One day.
Why has he planted them so close together? Is the plan to thin them out as they grow?
Cool here today..more rains coming. Summer can’t return fast enough for me.
Len Geiger says
I think the photos give that illusion, but the plants are pretty spread out. He put some thought in planting.
Micael S says
Honestly, I have drooled over this post a dozen times! Cycads are just the cats meow, in my opinion, and this garden has many spectacular examples of the rarer species. I do feel conflicted about those “recently planted” specimens as they’re obviously plants stolen from the wild (at some point in history). Altensteinii is not as threatened as other species, but I can’t imagine many princeps are left in the wild anymore and we plant collectors are to blame. I’ve heard stories from Paul S. about how some near-extinct species are imprisoned behind walls with armed guards to stop poachers. I guess the private garden parallel is large walls and electric fences. Thanks for sharing and I am grateful the owner allowed you to tour and take photos. Just spectacular.
Len Geiger says
Love cycads too. Many of those large cycads come from government sponsored relocations. I know for example a damn was built and all the cycads were removed from the wild from there, with many sold to private collections.
Michael S says
Oh wow, I never had heard of government saving and selling cycads when the habitat is being repurposed. I feel guilty about feeling guilty about enjoying the garden’s prized specimens. Thanks for responding Len.
Blake Lovelace says
These pictures are amazing Len! A lot of rare gems in that collection and some with incredible size. The layout is spectacular. Any hybrids in the collection or mostly “pure” species?
Len Geiger says
Yes Blake, tons of hybrids too :). I would like to go back in a few years and see the place once the cycads have a few years in ground.
manoj kumar says
excellent collections of cycads. eye treat for cycad lovers. thanks
Wow!!! Encephalartos Hirsutus has to be the most beautiful of the encephalartos. So beautiful the pictures almost look fake. Unfortunately way beyond my budget, that’s if I could ever find one for sale. Maybe one day!! Thanks for posting the pictures. Always enjoy reading your articles. One question for you, why are some of the cycads wrapped? Protection from something? Thanks
Len Geiger says
Hirsutus is easily one of my favorites too. The wrapping is a method South Africans use to help in water loss after a transplant. Apparently it works.
edy catur setya says
saya sangat terinspirasi dan sangat suka sekali melihat tanaman ini
charles posthumus says
Do the owner allow visitors on appointment ?
If so are there any contact details ?
Len Geiger says
Sadly, the owner was murdered in his own store a few years back.